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5 Indian Designers On Business, New Norms & How COVID-19 Is Affecting Fashion

An unforeseen global health crisis. Almost a month of lockdown. A strange time. On the announcement of the initial lockdown to curb the COVID-19 outbreak, we had reached out to industry insiders to share their thoughts on how they would function amid the ongoing crisis. 

Now, with weeks of a 'work from home' scenario and new processes, digital platforms and various takes coming into play, we revisit how the fashion and textile industry is coping, with designers sharing their concerns, thoughts and hopes for what comes after. Excerpts from interviews.

Rina Singh, Eka

“To be very honest, the industry is going to be in deep water for a very long time to come. Even if we get out of this crisis, once the lockdown opens, there are going to be restrictions in movement. We need to understand the situation as it exists; I have a lot of discussions where people say retail will boom and things will be back on track but what does one really mean by ‘normal’? It's realistic to fully realise that we are in the middle of a pandemic that can kill lakhs and crores of people. We are a poor country—I don’t think anything that isn’t need-based is going to flourish for at least the next 6 months to a year. 

As far as Eka is concerned, we have had a lot of orders that were deferred or are still stuck because we no longer know when things will get better. 60 per cent of our work is international business and of course, on the domestic front, there are no sales. Assuming that the lockdown opens in the foreseeable future, the first thing would be to get in touch with the buyers and start sending the shipments wherever we can, for whoever is accepting it. I don’t mind giving any kind of discounts; I have been discussing with my buyers that all of us can work together to brace ourselves out of this situation. Secondly, the concern comes in terms of salaries—the 150 workforce I employ, craftspeople and weavers. We have been able to give salaries for the month of March and we need to figure out what we can do for April. I don’t think I will be in the position to afford new developments. I will only try to work with what I have, which is enough to last for another 3-4 seasons. It goes without saying that all of this is going to impact everybody.”

Narresh Kukreja, Shivan & Narresh

“With major public places like malls and retail outlets shut, there has been a direct impact on the business. We have observed a number of eleventh-hour cancellations on orders for international travels, destination weddings and celebrations. However, the client base has now shifted online as it has seen a major upsurge in the indulgence factor there. Timelines, holidays and celebrations have shifted, but with more time in hand, the customer is now online. This is both for our national and international clientele. Luxury has been profoundly dependent on physical experience; a solid digital business model and 'work from home' system can help it survive and emerge stronger from this crisis.”

Pallavi Mohan, Not So Serious by Pallavi Mohan

“The crisis is going to have a negative impact for the next 6-8 months. Since it’s a global issue, we had to cancel on 80 per cent of the orders for which investments had been made already in terms of materials. As in any other industry, cash flow is important for textiles. Unpaid workers will have no choice but to migrate back to their villages and there won’t be enough labour to survive. Until a few months ago, we were least aware of all that we would be stumbling upon collectively as a human race. Fast forward to our ‘new normal’ where we are at a standstill in our own space and lives. Ever wondered what it would be like for the daily wage earners? Factory workers? Families and children, that are dependent on these people? This crisis is affecting millions of workers around the globe.”

Aprajita Toor

“Apart from the financial impact of the lockdown, what is more worrisome at this moment is that fact that the novel coronavirus is highly contagious and spreads with remarkable ease. It remains to be seen how the whole world will deal with staying safe once the lockdowns are removed and old routines are allowed to resume. The virus has laid bare the fact that humans can never be fully prepared to deal with vagaries of nature, even with the most sophisticated equipment and health care at their disposal. Financially, there is definitely a strong sense of uncertainty with respect to both the severity and the extent of losses, due to the extended lockdown. Everything is on a standstill and we will only know in the future about how much customer confidence is restored to resume spending. After the situation is better, the need of the hour will be to ensure that the important pillar of our industry, the highly skilled migrant worker, remains supported and is able to feel secure enough to continue working in his area of expertise. The least we could do to help businesses survive and re-grow is to understand that, economically, at a certain level we are all interconnected. It will be important to support local businesses to ensure that they survive and so do the craftsmen of India.”

Sunaina Khera

“At this time the first and foremost concern is to stay healthy. Nothing else matters. The situation is such that it has forced us to realise what truly matters. With COVID-19, there has been an upsurge in the exploration of digital platforms as well as the thought of coming up with new ways to interact with our consumers. While all that is well, the matter of concern is the product. How will we produce in the future with the new social distancing norms remains to be seen as does navigation in a post-coronavirus scenario—thinking of it now won’t help us forecast it absolutely on-point. We are going to have to create new ways of working and our ‘normal’ will definitely change. It will also require consumers to be more sensitive and consume responsibly so that products are all the more meaningful and special. Less is better should be the new motto. Quality over quantity has always been my mantra and I think it has never mattered more than it does right now.”

Featured Image: Unsplash

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